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Team recovers data from under Arctic ice


“Ten seconds of sheer terror followed by five hours of intense boredom.” That’s how technician John Kemp describes what it’s like to recover a moored buoy containing a year’s worth of scientific data from beneath Arctic pack ice, reports correspondent Chris Linder in this special dispatch from sea.

Writes Linder:

Much can go wrong in the ten seconds that elapses between sending a release code to the mooring, and then actually seeing the orange buoy that marks it come floating to the surface, says Kemp, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). For example, the mooring could come up underneath a solid ice floe, or the release might malfunction—and a year’s worth of data would be lost.

Or, like today, the buoy could pop up in open water 20 feet from the side of the ship, just as planned.

It was no accident that the buoy came up so perfectly.  Kemp and Kris Newhall, another member of the Mooring Operations Group, spent the entire morning surveying the mooring to make sure they knew exactly--and by exactly, I mean within a few feet--where that buoy was going to pop up.  Then the captain spent a few hours softening up the ice by driving the icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent in circles, pounding solid floes into rubble. (The worst thing that can happen during a recovery is to have the mooring trapped underneath a solid ice floe.)

All of that preparation paid off today. 

After the big orange top sphere bobbed to the surface, Kemp and Newhall and the deck crew wasted no time. They quickly attached a line to the float and hauled it aboard. Then they proceeded to reel in over two miles of cable, detaching instruments from the wire as they came up.  There were a few more terrifying moments to come, as big floes snagged the mooring line.  Here again deft maneuvering from the bridge and judicious use of the compressed air bubbler system kept the cable—and data—safe.

As the afternoon wore on, the morning fog burned off to reveal the bluest sky I have ever seen.  The reappearance of the sun after so many days of thick fog had a rejuvenating effect on everyone.  Smiles and jokes broke out as warmth and light flooded the deck.  By dinnertime, all of the instruments were retrieved, and a hungry crowd invaded the galley.

This mooring is one of four that will be deployed as part of WHOI principal investigator Andrey Proshutinsky’s “Beaufort Gyre Observing System.” The moorings are critical to our understanding of one of the least explored bodies of water on the planet.  Since we deployed them last year, the autonomous moored instruments have been dutifully collecting a variety of oceanographic data, including pressure, temperature, salinity, currents, ice thickness, and sediment flux, beneath the ice pack.  Over the course of this five-year project, we will be able to tell how climate change is affecting the Beaufort Gyre, and how in turn this may impact climate around the world.

-Chris Linder

Note: Linder is making dispatches from sea to a cruise Web site at”. He is also sending updates to Alaska Science Outreach as newsworthy events occur.

[Read more at Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project]

Photo credit: Chris Linder | Posted 08.10.05 at 8:08 pm

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